TEMPE, AZ - Arizona State lost most of its starting defense, including two players now in the NFL.
The young Sun Devils taking their places have some talent and looked good in fall camp, but now it's time to see what they can do under the pressure of a real game.
Even their coach is anxious to see how they respond when 19th-ranked Arizona State opens its season Thursday night against Weber State.
"I'm excited to get these guys out there and the first game is always a measuring stick to see where we are at, and then we can get to work," Arizona State coach Todd Graham said. "Our guys are ready to go."
In its first two seasons under Graham, Arizona State had an attacking defense that was among the nation's best at getting sacks and tackles for loss.
That defense, along with an explosive, up-tempo offense, helped the Sun Devils win a bowl game in their first season under Graham and the Pac-12 South title a year ago.
Most of the key players from that group are gone, including defensive tackle Will Sutton, the two-time Pac-12 defensive player of the year, and linebacker Carl Bradford.
Arizona State has just two returning starters, defensive tackle Jaxon Hood and safety Damarious Randall, and Hood has been playing catch-up after missing two weeks of fall practice to deal with a personal matter.
That leaves the Sun Devils in the hands of a bunch of young and inexperienced players who will be faced with a much tougher schedule after playing Weber State.
"I want to see our guys really attack," Graham said. "I don't want to give them a lot to think about. I want to let them go and run to the ball and make things happen."
Some things to look for when the Sun Devils host the Wildcats at Sun Devil Stadium:
FULL NELSON: Expect to see a lot of Arizona State's De'Marieya Nelson on Thursday night. Graham said early in fall camp that the multi-talented senior could play up to 40 snaps on defense and 20 on offense. As other defensive players have stepped up, Graham has geared back his expectations, saying Nelson will primarily be counted on at tight end and play between 15-20 snaps at defensive end. Either way, he'll be out there quite a bit.
KELLY'S FINALE: Senior quarterback Taylor Kelly is starting his third and final season under center for Arizona State. If the previous two seasons were any indication, expect big numbers from him. Kelly has already added his name to Arizona State's record books and has numerous others within his sights. He may not play the full game against Weber State if things get out of hand as expected, but it should be a good warmup for him.
WEBER STATE CHANGES: The Wildcats have a steep hill to climb against Arizona State, entering the game with a new coaching staff and a large group of new players. The new head coach is Jay Hill, who spent 13 seasons as an assistant under three different coaches at Utah. He takes over a team that went 2-10 last season, including 1-7 in the Big Sky Conference, and will be playing a ranked opponent for the fourth time as a program.
CALHOUN PRIMED: Arizona State's D.J. Calhoun has a chance to do something no other linebacker has done in program history: Start in his first game. A top recruit from El Cerrito, California, he arrived at ASU in time to participate in spring practice with the Sun Devils and has done everything the coaches asked of him, keeping an even keel even when they have gotten on him. Though relatively small for a linebacker -- he's around 205 pounds -- Calhoun hits like someone much bigger.
QUICK-HITTERS: Arizona State had a little trouble with Sacramento State's quick-hitting offense in its opener last season before running away from the Hornets. The Sun Devils could face a similar scenario against the Wildcats, who will likely try to get the ball out of the hands of quarterback Billy Green quickly to keep Arizona State's pass-rushers from wreaking havoc.